Krishna's Birthday Bash

Krishna, the blue-faced prankster, is a beloved Hindu deity. His birthday, Janmashtami, is a joyous day with a serious message.
(Editors' Note: This article first appeared on Beliefnet in 2005)

A Janmashtami celebration at Boston's Hare Krishna temple

To know Lord Krishna is to adore him. He is the blue-skinned God, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, Preserver of the World. He is the Cosmic Cowherd, the mischievous deity that Hindus love the most for his pranks, for his butter-thievery, for his melodious flute, for his romantic interludes with Gopis, the milkmaids. He fought demons, danced on the mighty serpent's head and lifted Govardhana hill with his little finger, using it like an umbrella, to protect the people from torrential rains.

Yet one anecdote encompasses it all: as a naughty child hankering after butter, he would stand on the shoulders of other children to reach the pots of butter that hung from the ceiling. His mother, sure the incriminating proof was in his mouth, ordered him to open his mouth. She was mesmerized to see entire universes in the child's mouth, and knew then that all the incidents were merely part of the Lord's Leela or celestial play.

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Janmashtami--the birth of Lord Krishna--is Aug. 16 this year. It is little surprise that devotees gather in the hundreds, in the thousands, in temples across India and around the world. It is a very special and festive day, and they wait in anticipation, surrounding the symbolic baby crib, singing devotional songs. It's a day of exuberant celebration befitting the birthday of a beloved deity, yet Janmashtami also has a much deeper message: It's a reminder to do one's duty in life, no matter how difficult, and to keep on the path of dharma, to surrender one's life to Krishna because all else is maya, or illusion.

The story behind the birth of Krishna is intriguing, and one most Hindu children have grown up with: the wicked King Kansa had been told that he would meet his death at the hands of his yet unborn nephew. To thwart that, he had his only sister Devaki and her husband Vashdev imprisoned, and murdered each of their seven sons as they were born.

Just as the eighth child--Lord Krishna--was born, the prison locks magically opened and Vashdev managed to escape with the baby Krishna in a wicker basket on his head. The river was raging but touching the divine baby's feet, it receded. Krishna was brought up by a simple cowherd Nand and his wife Yashoda, and the evil Kansa did meet his death at his hands, as it was foretold.

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